Okay, file this under “things that help me feel better about the twists and turns in my life.”
Last Spring, Neela Banerjee at the New York Times wrote about the increase in the number of people attending seminary and the decrease in the number heading to any parish ministry or leadership (“Students Flock to Seminaries, But Fewer See Pulpit in Future”). So, I’m not alone.
I had heard something similar while I was at Fuller Seminary in the 90s. A prof mentioned that only 40% or 60% (I can’t remember which it was) of Fuller grads were going into pastoral ministry. And since then I’ve realized I’m not the only M.Div. floating around doing non-church work, even in a small area like Yakima. When I applied for a training & development job here back in ’02 or ’03 — it was at one of those job fair things — I happened to see a pile of other applications, and saw another one listing an “M.Div.” I don’t think either of us got the job.
Banerjee’s article doesn’t get into why this is happening. I think it’s mainly economic: church jobs don’t pay well, for one, and for two, it can be hard to find a full-time church job. The mainline denominations have more clergy than they do full-time positions. Many pastors are co-vocational, out of necessity, therefore. And it’s also the realization that life doesn’t have to be so categorized into sacred / secular, that one’s “calling” and one’s work can flow and evolve over a lifetime (less emphasis on one particular career, one particular “calling”).
As for why more students are drawn to seminary, all I can say is that when I began my studies at Fuller, when people asked me what I wanted to do with my degree, I said, “I’m not sure. I’m here mainly because I crave this stuff.” It was not a practical or economic strategy on my part. I just wanted to learn and study. I wanted to immerse myself in theological thinking and feeling. I wanted to grow and see where it took me.
Turns out, I think, almost ten years later, that though I may have more passion for theology, I have more insight and more to offer in teaching writing and working with students as they begin to mold their ways of thinking and responding to others and themselves. And even more important (at least for me) is that I think I will have more impact with beginning writer/thinkers than with theology students.
And, in the end, it’s all pastoral, anyway.